There is a parent at my son’s school who has been wearing reindeer antlers for the whole of December. It’s not just the school gates either, she wears them everywhere she goes: to the shops, to the post office, to the supermarket. She even wears them in work meetings.
How do I know?
Well….because it is me.
Each year in December the teachers set the parents a festive memory agility course: please bring in 50p on this day for charity, bring in a tin of food on that day, wear a Christmas jumper on Thursday, choose a Christmas dinner, bring a Christmas packed lunch, buy a raffle ticket…and so on.
I am someone who enjoys Christmas, so when my son was first at school and the annual festive agility course began I came out of the gates enthusiastically, I bounded forth, I was ready! I had the 50p, he had his Christmas jumper, we had the tin of food, but…
He took the 50p in too early, I’d thought it was Friday for the jumper not Thursday. By the midpoint in December I was dismayed with myself, how had I forgotten so many of them? Then I sat down and wrote them out. There were 21 separate things I’d been asked to remember, on top of the usual: have you got your jumper, your water bottle, your reading book, is it PE today?
The next year I was braced. I was more organised. I made lists. I marked calendars. We still missed a few but I was better.
The following year I was ready for success, I knew the sorts of requests, the Christmas decoration made the size of an adult’s hand and so on. We were doing really well, but then one day I arrived in the playground and all the adults, not the children, the adults, had Christmas headgear on. I was the only grown up not to. Up until that moment I’d not missed one that year.
I drove from the school to the shops and bought my antlers. I wore them to pick him up from school but the other parents weren’t wearing their headgear any more. I continued to wear them for the whole of December, just in case!
This year as December started I knew what to wear: antlers! He has two more days of school left and I am still the only adult wearing Christmas headgear.
I don’t know what happened last year. I don’t know why everyone was wearing headgear that day. I don’t know what message I missed, what Whatsapp group I’m not a part of.
You might think it funny that it matters so much to me. Please do not worry, I enjoy wearing my antlers (and the reason I’ve worn them everywhere else, including in work zoom meetings is because they just feel like a hairband and I forget they are there.) The permeance of the antlers on my head for the whole of December is the result of two bits of autistic thinking intersecting with each other: binary thinking and social awareness.
My brain tends to think in a binary fashion, things are right or wrong, good or bad, safe or dangerous. I understand the theory of the in between, of the grey area, but I don’t feel it in my head.
I was trying to get the parenting agility course ‘right’. When I missed sending the 50p on the right day, it mattered to me more than it might have mattered to someone who could shrug it off as an understandable mistake. When I had missed three tricks on that year’s course I was genuinely upset and distressed by my failure.
I know that there are right and wrong things to wear in different social circumstances. I do not have a work uniform, but I have in effect made one for myself. I have a set of dresses that I wear for work. They are the ‘right’ thing to wear for work. I got in a real pickle when invited to a party to celebrate the switching on of a wind turbine – what on earth is the right thing to wear to that!
You might be thinking “people don’t mind what you wear”. And hopefully that is true. But I did not understand these rules on instinct. I very much wore the ‘wrong’ things for a lot of my life, and my experience tells me that people mind a lot. Those experiences are not ones I would want to return to. So, I try to get it right.
And here is where the two thoughts collide, having got December clothing ‘wrong’ by not wearing antlers last year, this year my understanding tells me that the ‘right’ thing to wear for December is antlers. So antlers it is!